*** Anglo Saxon Kingdoms








England: Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms (5-9th Centuries)

Anglo-Saxon kingdoms
Figure 1.--The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms began as pagan entities. The Christinization of those kinngdoms was an important step in English history. The painting here depicts the 'The Baptism of Edwin'. It is one of the Manchestr Murals painted by Ford Madox Brown for the Manchester Town Hall. Edwin of Northumbria was the king of Deira which included the Manchester area. He was baptised at York, with priests, an altar boy, and his Christian wife Ethelburga and their children.

At the time Saint Augustine arrived, the Anglo Saxons controlled most of southern England and were expanding north and west (late 6th century). The Anglo Saxon invaders had no central organization as Roman Britain had or as the Normans would institute after Hastings. They gradually colonised England northwards and westwards, pushing the native Britons to the western fringes of island. Thus Roman Britain was replaced by Anglo Saxon Britain, The Anglo-Saxon invaders formed several new kingdoms. The Anglii settlements evolved into the kingdoms of East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria. The Saxons settlements appeared to have founded the kingdoms of Sussex, Wessex, and Essex. The Jutes apprear to have predominated in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Wars between these kingdoms gradually resulted in the consolidation of three impotant kingdoms into Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex. War cointinued between these kingdoms as well as raids from the west and north, but they were stronger than the Romanized Britons and able to deal with these raiders. This was the England that the Vikings found when they began to raid. The Anglo-Saxon invaders were not-yet Christianized. While they defeated the Christinized Britons, they eventually became Chritinized. The Church became the richest institution in the country and the only centralized institution. The Church also acquired prestige and political influence. Their wealth was in land and gold and silver jewellery, relics, and chalses hkld by the churches and manastaries. The Christianized Anglo-Saxon sttes fought among each other, but generally respected church property.

Anglo-Saxon Invasion of Britain

Many historic accounts focus on the Goths and other Germanuc tribes over running the Wesern Empire. A more limited, but historically important Germanic invasion took place in the north, the invasion of Roman Britain. The invasions took place after the last Roman garison withdrew from Britain (407 AD) abd was largely accomplished by the time St Augustine arrived (end of the 6th century). The Germaniv invasions significantly changed the democraphic and ethnic pattern of Britain, especially what we now call England. The make up of the population, language, political structure, and other institutions were fundamentally changed. The Germanic invaders replaced the Romanized Celts who might be called the British. Historians have differed over the interactions between Germanic invaders and British. The disappearance of Latin and Celtic suggested that the Germanic invaders did not absorbe the Celts, but rather conducted a war of extinction. Modern DNA studies tends to confirm this. Not only did Germanic dialects (which evolved into Old English) replace Latin and Celtic, but loose knit and often feuding hereditary kingships replaced the more centrally governed system of provinces left by the Romans. [Myres] Urban life desintegrated and the Roman cities were largely abandoned. The problem for historians is that the victors were the Germanic tribes or Anglo-Saxons who were not literate at the time and thus there are no surviving contemprary written accounts. The earliest accounts of the conquest come several centuries later. Available sources suggest that the British (Roman-Celtic) authorities after the departure of the Legions had increasing duifficulty resisting the depredations of the northern tribes. They apparently hired a Germanic warlord and his men as mercenaries (mid-5th century). Relations soon desintegrated and the Germans not only revolted, but invited kinsmen to join them. The Germanic tribes gradually gained controll over much of low-land Britain. The stuggle of the Romanized Celts and Germanic tribes appears to to be the genesis of the Arthurian legend. While the Britons apprarentlt held out for some time, they were eventually driven into the mountaneous western areas and survived as the Welsh people. At the time Saint Augustine arrived, the Anglo Saxons controlled most of southern Engkland and were expanding north and west (late 6th century). It is not all together clear who the Germanic invaders were. The Britons tended to call them Saxons. The name England of course comes from the Anglii, another Germanic tribe. The Anglii settlements evolved into the kingdoms of East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria. The Saxons settlements appeared to have founded the kingdoms of Sussex, Wessex, and Essex. The Jutes apprear to have predominated in Kent and the Isle of Wight. One poorly understood question is the role of the Frisians in the conquest. The Frisians were a seafarring people abd the Anglii and Saxons had to pass through their territory to reach Briton, yet the Frisians are rarely mentione in the medieval chronicles. Frisian is the the modern language most closely related to the Old English of the Anglo-Saxons.

Competing Kingdoms

At the time Saint Augustine arrived, the Anglo Saxons controlled most of southern England and were expanding north and west (late 6th century). The Anglo Saxon invaders had no central organization as Roman Britain had or as the Normans would institute after Hastings. They gradually colonised England northwards and westwards, pushing the native Britons to the western fringes of island. Thus Roman Britain was replaced by Anglo Saxon Britain. The Anglo-Saxon invaders formed several new kingdoms. The Anglo-Saxon invaders were not-yet Christianized. The Anglii settlements evolved into the kingdoms of East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria. The Saxons settlements appeared to have founded the kingdoms of Sussex, Wessex, and Essex. The Jutes apprear to have predominated in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Wars between these kingdoms gradually resulted in the consolidation of three impotant kingdoms into Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex. War cointinued between these kingdoms as well as raids from the west and north, but they were stronger than the Romanized Britons and thus cinquered nmiost iof what is today England. This was the prosperous England that the Vikings found, briming wityh valkuable loot and captives to enslave.

Christianity (597-687)

The pagan Anglo-Saxons defeated the Christinized Britons and drove them into the remote west. This might have meant the end of Christianity, especially because the war , they eventually became Chritinized. The Church became the wars were ones of extinction, rather like the wars of conquest conducted on the Continent by other Germanic tribes. The Anglo-Saxons destroyed many churches as they drove the Britons west. Iro-Scottish missionaries like St. Aidan ( -651) began estanlishing churches in the new Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. One of the most renowned was on the island of Lidisfarne off the coast of northern England. Here a renowned monastary developed. Missionaries began preaching among the Anglo-Saxons. Here the missionaries had an advantage in that some of the Germanic tribes entering the Empire had begun to become Christinized. The Anglo-Saxons had contacts with these tribes which helped to open the kindoms to Christian influences. St. Augustine began preaching at the court of King Aethelbert of Kent. His wife was the Christian Frankish princess Bertha (597). This ws the first Anglo-Saxon kingdom to convert and the date is commonly used to date the beginning of the Christianization of England. The Jutes appear to have founded Kent and these were the first of the Anhlo-Saxon people to accept Christianity. Christianity also made inroads in Essex, a Saxon kingdom. The Church established bishoprics at Canterbury and Richester. King Eadwine of Northumbria married a Christian Kentish princess and accepted baptism by bishop Paulinus. There was some resistance to the spread of Christianity. Essex sled back to psaganism (616). St. Cedd and St. Chad, monks from Lindisfarne, convertd Essex and Mercia (627). There was at this time two competing Christian confessions/rites. The Iro-Scottish rite dominated at Lindisfarne. The Roman Catholic rite dominated at Canterbury. The Synod of Whitby chose the Roman church (684). Thus the Church organization in the British Celtic west split from the Roman church that became dominant in the Anglo-Saxon areas which by the 8th century encompased much of modern England. The Roman Church looked on the Celtic church with hostility and branded them renegades. England was politically divided, but became a Roman Catholic church province, the united English institution. The Pope consecrated the first Archbishop of Canterbury who from that time was seen as the highest officer in the English church. The first Archbishop was Theodore of Tarsus who reached Canterbury (669). The Church completed the conversion of England when the Isle of Wight became Christian (681/687). The Pope elevated York to a second archbishopric (735). It was a Christian monk, the Venerable Bede (673-735) who compiled the primary contemprary history of nglo-Saxon England. The Church became the richest institution in Anglo-Saxon England and the only centralized institution. The Church also acquired prestige and political influence. Their wealth was in land and gold and silver jewellery, relics, and chalises held by the churches and manastaries. The Christianized Anglo-Saxon sttes fought among each other, but generally respected church property.

Language: Old English

English essentially began with the Germanic language of the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain constituted part of the wider Germanic invasions of the Roman Empire. The Anglo-Saxons, after the departure of the Roman Legions, overwhelmed Roman Britain and drove the Romanized Celts into the remote west. Thus the Anglo-Saxon Germanic tongue became the foundation for the English language. The Anglo-Saxon language is generally referred to as Old English and was widely spoken once the Romanized Britons had been defeated and driven into the west during the 6th century. The first English literature comes from this period. The most important work from this time is the epic poem, Beowulf, based on a Germanic legend that goes back several centuries and was transmitted orally long before it was written down. Writings of the preacher Wulfstan also survive. Old English is not understandable to the modern reader. One author describes it as sounding dark and brusque. [Lerer] Old English words are not easily recognizable, but the influence on modern English can sometimes be seen. The word for throne was "gifstol" (literally �gift seat� or �gift stool�) because it was from his regal seat or throne that a king dispensed tokens (gifts) to his retainers. Many words are totally lost, such as "uht," which meant something close to �dawn.� Latin was also an important contributor to Old English during destinct periods.

Viking Invasions

At the time Saint Augustine arrived, the Anglo Saxons controlled most of southern England and were expanding north and west (late 6th century). The Anglo Saxon invaders had no central organization as Roman Britain had or as the Normans would institute after Hastings. They gradually colonised England northwards and westwards, pushing the native Britons to the western fringes of island. Thus Roman Britain was replaced by Anglo Saxon Britain, The Anglo-Saxon invaders formed several new kingdoms. The Anglii settlements evolved into the kingdoms of East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria. The Saxons settlements appeared to have founded the kingdoms of Sussex, Wessex, and Essex. The Jutes apprear to have predominated in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Wars between these kingdoms gradually resulted in the consolidation of three impotant kingdoms into Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex. War cointinued between these kingdoms as well as raids from the west and north, but they were stronger than the Romanized Britons and able to deal with these raiders. This was the England that the Vikings found when they began to raid. When the Viking insursions began, there was not coordinated Anglo-Saxon response. The Viking incursions culminated with a "Great Army" landing in East Anglia (865). It made wide territorial gains, and the kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria had succumbed (by 875). Only Wessex survived the Viking onslaught. The Vikings while devestating large areas also played a role in the spread of commerce and the evolution of democracy in England.

Anglo Saxon War Lords and Monarchs

The Anglo-Saxon tribes invaded Britain and set up number of competing kingdoms based on tribal alegiance. They made war on the Romanized Celtic Britons. The legend of King Arthur is based on the efforts of the Britins to resist the Anglo-Saxons. It was a war of extermination. The leading warlord founded several different tribally based kingdoms. The Anglo-Saxons drove the Britons to the remote west where they became known as the Welsh ("forigners"). The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms dominated modern England for four centuries. The term England is derived from the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes participating in the invasion of Britain. We do know the names of many of the Anglo-Saxon monarchs, although often not very much about them. The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were almost all destroyed by Viking invaders known as Danes at the time. Only one of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms, Wessex under Alfred managed to resist the Danes. Thus Wessex served as the basis for the English kingdom. Alfred who is the only English king with the title of Great can also be considered the first actual English king. Alfred managed to restore Anglo-Saxon power, but he could not defeat the Danes. A compromised was reached. The Danes were allowed to settle in the area to the north and east of a line between London and Chester. This was the old Roman Watling Street. The area conceded became known as the Danelaw. The Danes in the Danelaw continued to compete for power. An iladvised military adventure by King Aethelred the Unready resulted in his exile and control by the Dane Canute. The last Anglo-Saxon king was Harold who in fact was more of a Viking himself. Harold was defeated by Duke William of Normandy at Hastings (1066), ending Anglo-Saxon rule in fact as well as in name.

Sources

Lerer, Seth. Inventing English: A Portable History of the English Language (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 305p.

Myres, J.N.L. The English Settlements, The Oxford History of England (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986).





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Created: 7:44 PM 6/16/2007
Last updated: 10:38 PM 9/24/2022